Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Old Gray Horse

By Laura Crum

Out in the five acre field where I keep Gunner, the retired cutting/team roping/cowhorse that features in my mystery series about equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, there is an old gray horse. His owner called him Gray Dog. Somehow, I’m not quite sure how, I agreed to take Gray Dog and retire him.

His owner was a friend of mine and she had too many horses. She didn’t want the financial obligation of retiring Gray Dog. She said the horse was kind and gentle. He had been a team roping horse. He had navicular and had been nerved twice. Gray Dog gets around fine in the pasture but he isn’t sound enough to ride. He’s about sixteen hands, a registered Quarter Horse with a very TB look to him. He’s a hard keeper and needs plenty of hay and Equine Senior as well as pasture to keep his weight on.

I’m still wondering how I came to be responsible for Gray Dog. I can tell you the story, but it hardly makes sense, even to me. Here I am, feeling short of time and money because I care for too many horses, four of which are old/crippled retired pasture ornaments. Why, exactly, would I take on another old useless horse? Because my friend was desperately trying to find a home for him, I guess. He was for sale dirt cheap. When I asked her if he was gentle enough for a beginner, she promptly offered to give him to me. At one point, I had visions of my husband riding him, which vanished between my husband’s lack of enthusiasm, and Gray Dog’s lack of soundness.

Anyway, my friend hauled Gray Dog to the pasture where I keep my herd of retirees, and I turned him in with Gunner, wondering if I’d gone stark raving mad. I warned my friend that I would not be buying expensive veterinary care for this horse. If he got too lame to be a pasture pet, I would put him down. My friend agreed and said she would pay for euthanasia and the tallow truck. Fair enough.

And so this very tall (to me, sixteen hands is a very tall horse—I know you warmblood people will laugh), dignified, fleabitten gray gelding backed stiffly out of the stock trailer and became my horse.
From the beginning, Gray Dog was a gentleman. He never tightened the leadrope (not once) as I led him around his new pasture. He never pinned his ears (not once) as he got acquainted with 29 year old Gunner. Though aloof seeming, he was always easy to catch and handle. His ribs showed, he walked stiffly, but he seemed healthy and content, right from the beginning.

Gray Dog and Gunner were a good match. Though Gray Dog is only eighteen, his body type requires about the same amount of equine senior and hay as the much older Gunner. My new old horse gained weight slowly and his gray coat developed a silvery sheen. He began to trot a little more freely, and would even buck and play at feeding time. He was no problem to catch and hold for the farrier and to be wormed. He was a gentleman about everything. At least, I thought, if I had to rescue another old useless horse, this one is no trouble.

And then a funny thing began to happen. When I would walk out to check on the pasture horses, Gray Dog, formerly aloof, would spot me immediately. He was the first one to approach me. He would nuzzle me and my little boy affectionately, not begging for treats, always polite and respectful of our space, but distinctly friendly. It was as if, in some mysterious way, he had recognized that we were his benefactors. He had decided that he liked us. It sounds silly, but it felt true.

And I, who have many horses that I have owned for ages, horses who have done lots for me, horses that I have put many miles on, I started to fall for this old horse that I’d never once swung a leg over. I looked forward to seeing him almost as much as I looked forward to seeing Gunner. Though I don’t, in general, care much for grays, I admired the silvery color of his coat and thought his steady dark eyes had a noble look. He reminded me of Shadowfax in “The Lord Of the Rings.” (OK, now I’m really getting silly…I know.)

In short, I fell for this old gray horse in a big way. For no other reason than that he is a genuinely nice horse. I know his history. I know he was a good team roping horse who would pack a beginner, and a good trail horse. He took several people for their first-ever ride on a horse. He was kind to the babies in his previous owner’s pasture. She used to wean the young ones to him as a babysitter. But the thing that really matters is the feeling I get from this horse. Its just a pleasure to be around him.

This is a hard thing to explain to anyone who’s not a horseman, and a lot of horsemen wouldn’t understand it either. But I am grateful that fate, or something, caused me to agree to take this horse, against all logic. This horse deserves his peaceful retirement. This horse has been a gift to me, not a burden. I’m proud to own him.

OK…I really hope my husband never reads this blog. He’ll be sure I’ve gone off the deep end. But I wonder if many of you have similar illogical bonds with certain horses that would really make no sense to any one else, but which work for you. Or am I just a little loony? Or maybe its both. Cheers—Laura Crum


Mrs. Mom said...

You aren't crazy Laura- or at least, I don't think so. Maybe there is a special section in the crazy department, just for us horse folks who fall for horses like this. My last one was a Thoroughbred mare. Not to mention my ancient, blind Appaloosa gelding...

Give that handsome fellow a rub from us please.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks Mrs Mom--I hope your Sonny is recovering and things are smoothing out for you. These horses sure can be a lot of work at times. But they seem worth least to us slightly crazy horse folk.

Juli said...

Oh yeah. Sometimes there is just no accounting for who you fall in love with.

In my case, it's an old appy pony. Her name is Cindy. I took care of her for almost five years. She's 13 hands worth of attitude. Her conformation is..well..bad. She's a butt high, ewe necked, straigh shoulded, crooked legged little thing. In the pasture, she's a witch to the other horses. She's a booger to catch.

I took care of Cindy for five years. Within a couple of weeks of me caring for her, she foundered with over 5 degrees of rotation in her coffin bone. I talked her owners into letting me handle the care on her, and we got insulin resistance diagnosed, and then we got her diet under control.

Within one year, she was sound, had lost 100 pounds, and I could walk into the pasture with a halter and catch her whenever I wanted. It turned out Cindy was an awesome beginner horse. She had lovely smooth gaits, and she would take care of her rider every time.

I recently moved out of state, and although her owners offered to give her to me, I couldn't afford to ship two horses across the US, so she got left behind. It was the hardest thing to leave that grumpy, cranky, witchy little mare.

It's only been a month. From what I understand, she's started to have problems again. At over 25, I wonder and worry about what's going to happen to her.

If I win the lottery tomorrow, she'll be on a truck headed north. *sigh*

Martha Seaman McKee said...

I believe there exists a mutual affinity between ourselves and certain animals, just as there is with certain humans. Wonderful to have one in your life - a source of daily joy.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I currently have four horses, at least two too many, that I never ride enough and can't really afford, but I love them and consider them part of the family. They are expensive, but so are my grown children who live at home. Just being with a horse is enough to make it all worthwhile.

HorseOfCourse said...

No, you are not crazy, Laura.
Well if you are, you are not the only one!
A few horses touch our soul. Others are just good friends.

Laura Crum said...

HOC, Voyager, Martha and Juli--Thanks for the vote of confidence in my sanity. I do enjoy my horses--very much--including the pasture pets. Gray Dog makes five of these. I really do value all of them.

I am glad I still have a few I can ride. Just got back from a nice trail ride--not quite as exciting as mugwump's, with the cougar in the brush and all--but fun and peaceful. We have a lot of mountain lions in our hills here, too, and I find myself looking over my shoulder from time to time when I get that odd sort of "somebody's watching" feeling. But I've never really encountered one, despite having my protagonist do so in my sixth book. Several of my friends have seen one of these cats, riding the same trails I do, so I know they're out there.

Shanster said...

What a nice post! I don't have a horse like that but I sure can appreciate your feelings about him... if you are crazy, I wish others could be just as if not more crazy than you are. grin.

A.K. Alexander said...

You are so not loony. I have that same feeling about my horse. My husband has even made the comment that I love her more than I do him--jokingly, mid you. There are days though...LOL. Maybe we are all a tad crazy, us horse people. Get a book titled "What Horses Say." It will possibly give you some insight.

I do believe that horses understand who has rescued them, and they absolutely connect with certain people. This horse is aware of all of that and loves you for it. I totally believe it.